Catalina without getting on the boat

La Cañada resident Barbara Potter recalls taking the “big white boat” to Catalina Island when she was a child. It was a great family memory, she said, adding she enjoyed seeing the “flying fish” jumping out of the water.

Potter, 57, will be reliving that memory soon as the winner of a free drawing for attendees at last Saturday night’s Kiwanis Club of La Cañada Travelogue series film “Hollywood’s Magical Isle — Catalina.” Potter won a trip for her and one guest to spend a night on the island, as well as a van tour of the island for her and up to four guests.

“I’m so excited,” Potter said. “This will be a lot of fun.”

Potter was the envy of most of the about 100 people who showed up despite Saturday evening’s damp weather to view the Catalina Island documentary at the Flintridge Preparatory School auditorium.

The film was shown as part of the Kiwanis Club’s six-film, fund-raising series. In addition to seeing and hearing about the history and evolution of the island, those who attended were treated to memories and island trivia questions and answers from Catalina native Chuck Liddell, who also is one of the film’s producers and appears in the film.

Liddell was born on the island 60 years ago, and grew up there, as did some of his ancestors, from about the 1880s. Liddell’s grandfather built homes for William Wrigley, the chewing gum magnate who purchased the island for $2 million in 1919. In the 1970s the Wrigley family deeded much of the island to the Santa Catalina Island Conservancy.

Liddell’s father also was in charge of work crews who built the famous island casino — which is not a gambling casino, but a movie theater and ballroom. The theater was built to air the first film “talkies” and was later used as a model for sound designers and architects to create a blueprint for the Radio City Music Hall, according to the documentary.

Although they didn’t show up in person, the film was filled with facts and faces that provide Catalina with a plethora of credits. Actors Kathleen Quinlan, Tony Dow and Gregory Harrison appear in the film sharing their childhood memories of growing up on the island. Quinlan recalls swimming out to watch as divers dove into the island’s surrounding crystal clear waters to retrieve money tossed into the water by tourists who arrived by boat.

Harrison was one of those divers.

“I was acting then and I didn’t even know it,” Harrison recalled with a laugh. “We’d talk in Tahiti dialects [to the people on board the boats] and say, ‘Mooga booga, throw money’ and they would.” Harrison’s father and grandfather also lived on the island, and for 55 years his father, Capt. Eddie Harrison, was the captain of the island’s glass bottom boat.

“Until I was 16, I thought I’d continue the tradition and be the captain of the glass bottom boat,” Harrison said. However, he got the acting bug and became known for his role in the television series “Trapper John, M.D.” before going on to act on Broadway and star in the musical “Chicago.”

Dow, who is best known as Wally on the classic television show “Leave it to Beaver,” also has fond childhood memories of the island. “It’s the only place for people in L.A. to get away to a tropical paradise,” he said.

In addition to being host to the Catalina Jazz Festival and being known for the many jazz greats who’ve performed there, Catalina Island has played host to about 250 films and several television shows.

“Even if you haven’t been to Catalina, you’ve been subjected to Catalina,” Liddell said, as a precursor to listing a few of those films: “Mutiny on the Bounty,” “Hurricane,” “Typhoon,” “Treasure Island,” “The Aviator” and, some of the water scenes from “Jaws.”

Catalina’s airport tower also became famous on the television screen as the tower from which the character Tattoo, played by Herve Villachaize, shouted, “De plane boss, de plane” on the long running series, “Fantasy Island.”

Catalina Island also gained notoriety while it was owned by the Wrigley family, because of another of the family’s then-possessions, the Chicago Cubs baseball team. During the 1920s and 1930s the team held its spring training on the island.

The island also played host to military operations during World War II and was visited several times by Bob Hope and other stars who entertained the troops.

And, it’s known for being the site where golf star Tiger Woods played his first golf tournament, when he was 4 years old.

Honored after an intermission of the film Saturday was Kiwanian Ed Moulton, who began the Kiwanis Travelogue series 48 years ago.

There are two remaining films in the Travelogue series: “La Manche — the English Channel,” to be presented on April 12; and “Soul of Morocco,” on April 26.

Tickets to each performance are $8 per person at the door. For more information, call the Kiwanis Club of La Cañada at (818) 790-9901.


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